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Go Ahead, Prove the Negative

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following was written by Frankie L. Trull, President of the Foundation for Biomedical Research:

Opponents of animal research are seeking to stimulate a debate where none exists, but their illogical arguments have flatlined and cannot be resuscitated.

Some people believe in the power and promise of biomedical research involving the humane use of animal models. Others oppose animal research and its inherent power and promise. To insist that there exists a legitimate debate between these two factions, over empirical proof, is a foolhardy notion.

The biomedical research community recognizes that virtually all medical advances of the last century resulted from animal research. The opposition, founded largely on an emotional response, speculates that animal research was not necessary to arrive at those historical advances.

Laboratory research on dogs and fish gave us insulin to treat diabetes. Opponents say the dogs and fish had nothing to do with the discovery of insulin but cannot prove that insulin would have been developed in their absence. The polio vaccine was developed following research on mice and monkeys. Take the mice and monkeys out of the equation, and where would the polio vaccine be? Clams and rats helped researchers illuminate the power of the MRI, a non-invasive imaging method for medical diagnosis. No clams, no rats: No MRI.

Posing the hypothetical question of whether or not these achievements of the last century could have been possible without animal research is the faulty logic. The fact is that modern society is immunized by vaccines, treated by medications, and saved by organ transplants. Researchers are constantly laboring to deliver effective treatments and cures for cancer, spinal cord injuries and diabetes.

Biomedical research boasts more than two centuries of illuminating discoveries. Development of the smallpox vaccine in 1796 was based on work with cows. This summer, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have made gains against Lou Gehrig's disease with the aid of some laboratory rats.

Whenever pitting sound science against faulty logic, be forewarned that sound science always wins.

Opponents of 200 years of solid scientific evidence suffer from biomedical research amnesia. The predictive relationship is the essence of the entire scientific argument. To suggest that there is no predictive relationship between animals and humans is to discount any interconnectivity between the species. It is an argument that carries no weight with serious scientists and medical professionals.

What replicates a living system better than -- brace yourself -- a living system? Computer modeling can work as an adjunct to, but not as a replacement for, animal models. People and animals share many of the same physiological systems. Likewise, they also carry many of the same diseases. Is it not natural, then, to find that humans and animals respond similarly to treatments? Finding one exception to predictability neither negates animal research successes nor impugns the very foundations of modern medicine.

Recognizing that predictability can be gleaned from animal models, government regulations and international law both require the research of treatments and cures on suitable animal models before they ever reach humans in clinical trials. Animal research, therefore, is not optional. We all agree cancer is evil. Some might say animal research is evil. But if animal research cures cancer tomorrow, can we live with a necessary evil today?

There is little to debate. The merits of animal research are part of the historical record. Researchers should not have to defend the value of their government-regulated work to militants who would stop at nothing. Their use of harassment, firebombing, arson and other extreme fear tactics not only discredits and weakens their side's stance; it also creates an arduous environment for researchers to continue vital work that turns out to benefit all members of society -- even the critics and protestors themselves.

How far can biomedical research take us? Can we find cures for breast cancer, AIDS, diabetes and spinal cord injuries? If animal research history has predictive value, then the future looks very promising. As for the opposition, if life-changing cures can be delivered without animal research, then they should prove it. If not, then opponents should step aside because there is serious work to accomplish.

This Op-Ed is the first in a series of three that defines the debate over animal research.

Frankie L. Trull is president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, located in Washington, D.C.

SOURCE Foundation for Biomedical Research
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